Playing dead

Caribupdate

by Caribupdate Weekly

A page in the checkered and storied political career of V Nazim Burke was written last Sunday when he publicly announced, at a general council of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), that he was resigning as party leader.

Days before the meeting, informed sources within the NDC had told Caribupdate Weekly that Burke had informed the party’s executive that he was stepping down from the leadership but requested that it be kept secret until announced at the general council.

No one should begin to write Burke’s political obituary. He himself has made it clear that he remains a member of the NDC. And, in our views, there are better than evens odds that he’s positioning himself to return as leader of the National Democratic Congress. The best description of what’s at play is the use of the local phrase that Burke is “playing dead to see what funeral he go get.”

Thus far, Burke’s potential as a politician has not matched his political outcomes and achievements. As NDC public relations officer (PRO), there isn’t that much for which he can be credited. He held the post of PRO in the run up to the 2008 general elections, yet the PR work was spearheaded by a team that included Peter David and Arley Gill.

After the NDC’s victory in 2008, he not only became the party’s deputy political leader but also the de facto deputy prime minister, as well as minister of finance, minister of planning, minister of economic development, minister of energy and minister of foreign trade. It was a period in which one bigwig in the NDC referred to Burke as the “brain’’ of the party.

But, for all his positions, titles and brain, Burke appeared to have neither done nor said anything to attempt in rescuing the National Democratic Congress and the NDC administration as both were sinking deeper with every passing month and year, culminating in their ouster from government in a 15-0 clean sweep in 2013 elections.

With his supporters having cleverly cleared the deck with a mass expulsion of senior party members in 2012, there never was a doubt that when Tillman Thomas exited, Burke was going to be coronated as the new NDC boss; and he was. As well, he was granted a national platform to rebuild the NDC and enhance his own profile when then Governor General, Sir Carlyle Glean, appointed him a senator in the Upper House of Parliament.

His performance as senator, by and large, was underwhelming, perhaps best remembered for his many early departures from the house. The elections, held this past 13 March, did nothing to upgrade Burke’s political resume. For a second straight time, he was defeated in St George’s North-East; and, on a second consecutive occasion, the NDC lost 15-0 to the New National Party (NNP).

We understand that with back-to-back crushing personal and party defeats, Burke and the NDC must offer their supporters some explanation and hope for the future. But, it’s unproductive to peddle fables to supporters by selling them the idea that the Parliamentary Elections’ Office or the NNP “thief’’ the elections; or the NDC lost because the other party “buy’’ voters; or because voters are not smart and must educated.

Joseph Andall, now interim leader of the NDC, claims that Burke’s misfortunes at the polls were the results of people verbally attacking and vilifying the erstwhile political boss of the National Democratic Congress.

“Burke has made a very valuable contribution. We all know that over the years he has been viciously attacked, vilified, as probably no other politician has been in our country,’’ says Andall.

Please, Andall, be real. Former Prime Minister, the late Sir Eric Matthew Gairy, is far and away the country’s most vilified politician. And, Burke would be challenged to occupy a place in the top five of our most vilified politicians.

Burke, in his address to Sunday’s general council, endeavoured to soothe the still lingering pain of the party faithful; he submitted that at the recent general elections, “the NDC ran a superior campaign in many respects’’ to the victorious NNP. Then, he reminded delegates of the reality and the truth that, ultimately, the NDC “did not find favour with the electorate. The reasons for this,’’ added Burke, “are the source of much debate and discussion both within and without our party’’.

The NDC, in more than three decades as a political organisation, only has been able to win one general election outright; that’s the 11-4 win of 2008. And Burke, in our opinion, has presented some sound and frank counselling on the only way forward for the party to win another election. Burke, speaking Sunday, told the NDC general council: “Unless the NDC can find a way to increase its political support base by at least 12,000, the NNP will continue to gain the upper hand in every electoral contest. The fundamental question facing our party, therefore, is what does it need to do, in order to increase its support base by 12,000 over the next five years?’’

In resigning, said Burke, he was affording NDC “the opportunity to explore other leadership options’’ and he recommended that a leadership convention should not take place before March 2019.

“Settling on the right person – one willing and able to get the job done – may take some time. But it is extremely important that we get this right,’’ Burke said.

Analysing Burke’s comments following Sunday’s meeting, he has not ruled himself out to be “right person’’ to return to the leadership of the NDC. “We have said that we would try to have the next convention some time in March,’’ he reiterated. “I may contest, I may not contest. At this particular moment, I’ve not really been putting my mind to that question.’’

No doubt, there’ll be many NDCites lobbying Burke to return to the helm, and he has enough time to test his strength within the party and assess his likely leadership contenders.

Some of the party’s diehards favour former Prime Minister Thomas making a comeback. Others clamour for a female leader, citing Franka Bernadine – the former education minister – as a possible new leader. Lawyer Claudette Joseph, a losing candidate in the 13 March general elections, is also said to have an interest in the NDC leadership position.

Whomsoever emerges as NDC leader is certain to face an uphill task convincing thousands of people across Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique that the National Democratic Congress is not a cockamamie political organisation, and it’s worthy of being voted into office and entrusted with the leadership and governance of the nation.

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